Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Intermittent and inconsistent

It was a slow March on CatholictotheLeft--sorry folks, a little vacation on the least of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico (just to the east of the most tragic of the Greater Antilles, Haiti/Dominican Republic, and still further east of the most Communist of the Greater Antilles, Cuba) slowed me down.

Actually, I couldn't find an Internet cafe, but I wasn't going to blog anyway. I'm off to LA for the weekend, so I hope today's posts will suit the five of you until I'm back online.

But one little reflection from lovely PR: I saw almost no Catholic parishes there, but loads of Pentecostal churches and had to ask myself: Isn't this a "Catholic" associate free state (the technical designation of PR in relation to the USA)?

Less and less it seems, and I think I know why: As long as we Catholics (and probably mainline Protestants as well) stay married to outdated structures and rules instead of really meeting the needs of people, Christians churches of every type are going to slowly eat away at us. How long do you think Catholic churches will be full when parishes can't even have Mass on Sunday anymore because there are no priests?

What they like in theology and tradition, these "sects," as the pope calls them, make up for in human contact, charisma, energy--and inculturation. Why can't we learn a bit from them? We better, and not because they're bad but because we have so much to offer.

Oh, just let her go to the prom!

Prom season's coming up, so the avalanche of stories about good Catholic boys and girls who want to bring a member of the same sex to their Catholic high school's prom are already hitting the wires--no doubt part of the coordinated assault on the family being launched by the ACLU's Subcommittee on Destroying the Nuclear Family and All Civilization (SDNFAC). Puhleeze.

Buffalo, New York-area Villa Maria High School, an all-girls school closing at the end of the year anyway, has forbidden Laura Murphy from bringing her girlfriend to the prom, despite that fact she was allowed to bring her to the winter semi-formal.

Now, if I remember correctly, girls do most of the dancing at middle and high school dances anyway--horror!--and, since Catholic teaching only forbids same-sex sexual behavior, which I'm sure Laura and her girlfriend were not going to engage in there on the dance floor, I hardly see why the school had to take such draconian (and idiotic) measures.

Oh well. Kudos to Laura for asking--that was gutsy.

Incidentally, Villa Maria is being turned into a senior housing complex, which is a pretty good indication of where Catholicism is going to find itself if it doesn't find a way to speak (and listen to) people like Laura.

Noah's ark found!

Or at least re-created, at one fifth it's original size. Oh yeah, and it's not made out of gopher wood--that's hard to find nowadays.

Forty-seven-year-old Johan Huibers of the Netherlands is setting sail in his replica of Noah's big boat, along with some barnyard animals, to spread Christianity in his primarily non-religious country. Though he funded the project with bank loans, he hopes that paid admissions--which include a drink and a religious pamphlet--will cover his payments. It's estimated that he needs 100,000 visitors to cover his $1.2 million dollar debt.

"This will speak very much to children," he says, "They'll hear the creak of the wood, smell the smell of the dung." Ah, dung--better than incense for inspiring faith.

Huibers' wife, who, like Noah's, doesn't get a name evidently, wasn't too crazy about the idea, suggesting that Huibers go to Ethiopia and dig wells instead.

"I've been involved in projects there before," he said, "but she understands this is my dream."

That is one understanding woman.

No pate for the pope

On the pop front, the pope has sounded off on the foie gras controversy; for those of you who haven't been following the controversy, some major chefs have quit using goose liver foie gras (that's the same as pate, no?) because geese are being force fed to make their livers large. (I'm sure this is only the tip of the cruelty iceberg for the geese, much less the factory-raised chickens, pigs, and cows that fill supermarket cases everyday.) Anyway, the pope speaks:

"Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."

Can we expect an encyclical on this soon? I can predict the beginning line: "The church has always loved geese ... "

And they'll know we are Christians ...

... by the names we call each other. Especially when it's "murderer."

And that's exactly what Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life (now a religious community of some sort) called Michael Schiavo, whom he addressed in a letter: “Some have demanded that I apologize to you for calling you a murderer. Not only will I not apologize, I will repeat it again. Your decision to have Terri dehydrated to death was a decision to kill her.”

Wow, that's helpful. What's terribly unfortunate is that Pavone evidently gets to speak for the Catholic church, since no one seems to want to touch this with a 10-foot pole even a year later. The fact of the matter is both the bishops of Florida and Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C., as much as said that Catholic teaching permitted the withdrawal of artificial hydration and nutrition in Terri's tragic circumstance.

But as usual, good moral reflection gets drowned out by high-pitched hyperbole from the far right. And I still say that the further tragedy is that the consciences of many will be further burdened in end-of-life decision-making, believing that they will have to use any possible means to keep a body breathing or be guilty of murder.

Sometimes it's OK to let go. At some point you have to. And isn't there something about resurrection in the Story somewhere?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Real Catholic men

My post on the Boston's men's conference, featuring the outrageous comments of Sean Forrest, drew a comment worth noting from someone who attended the event (and I appreciate the eyewitness account):

The Herald chose to focus on Sean Forrest, the least prominent of the four featured speakers. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Dr. Scott Hahn and Fr. John Corapi each had a one hour session in the morning and second one hour session in the afternoon. The day closed with Archbishop Sean presiding over mass. Unfortunately neither Boston newspaper took the Boston Catholic Men’s and Women’s conferences seriously. The two days had almost 9000 attendees in total. I’ll provide one point of contrast to the Hearld’s story. Fr. Cantalamessa’s second talk of the day focused on Ephesians 5. He said that the husband’s call to love his wife is reciprocal; the wife must also love her husband. The wife’s call to be subordinate herself to the husband is reciprocal; the husband must subordinate himself to the wife. That is a small taste of the 2006 conference. Overall it was a very good event.

Now I must admit that I'm no fan of Scott Hahn--a former evangelical who has taken his biblical fundamentalism and applied it to the Catechism--but I imagine that the two priests probably offered decent content, having heard Corapi and read Cantalamessa. But the fact that someone with Forrest's message--basically that husbands should control their wives' bodies by "getting them off the birth control"--is disturbing in the extreme. Quite frankly, he made the case for why Roe v. Wade shouldn't be overturned! His message is patriarchy pure and simple, and it has no place at an official Catholic event, especially when dioceses systematically restrict more liberal Catholic voices on similar topics, Sister Joan Chittister, OSB being a case in point. What's good for the left is good for the right, and Forrest's message is indefensible as a Catholic position.

But here's my question for the conference planners: Granting that a Catholic men's conference is a good idea, why wasn't at least one of the keynoters a woman? Especially if much of the content focused on the relationship between men and women? Secondly, why does a "men's" conference need to focus so much on women? Isn't the purpose of a men's conference to focus on the particular spiritual experience, journey, and needs of men as men? This wasn't, after all, a Catholic husbands conference.

I hope, as the commenter argues, that the conference was indeed good overall, and I've no doubt the local newspapers completely ignored what good was offered there. But I still have to ask why Catholic men can't have a conference about being men, instead of focusing on how they should relate to, much less control, women. Not all men are married--we're not all even straight--and it seems to me that we need to work most on how we relate to ourselves and each other rather than worrying about how we're going to handle those uppity girls.

That's that kind of "men's work" that's desperately needed, as most male relationships are reduced to boss-subordinate or competitor at work and mere drinking buddy at the social level. Think about it, all you men out there, gay or straight: How many relationships do you have with other men in which you could talk about what's really going on in your life, much less what's going on in with you spiritually? Focusing on women is an excuse for not taking a good look at ourselves.

And my last, and I grant, meanest question: Why is it that not one Catholic man got up and left during Forrest's talk? Did not one of you feel that your wives were being degraded by a man who actually responds to women's criticism with an adolescent "you'll be back"? That's shameful in the extreme.

Any women out there want to sound off on this one?

This is sure to hurt Apple's share price

Known already for his expensive taste in shoes (Prada) and sunglasses (Gucci), Pope B16 has now entered the computer age with his first iPod, a 2-gigabyte Nano, a gift from Vatican Radio employees. The Nano came loaded with programs from Vatican Radio (skip, skip, skip) and some of Papa Ratzi's classical favorites, Mozart, et al.

Now the real question: What song will be B16's first download? Perhaps last night's Oscar-winning "It's hard out here for a pimp"? (Joseph will just change "pimp" to "pope" when he listens, 'cuz it IS hard out there...)

Of course, if I was Apple, I'd be doing some quick work--what 16-year-old is going to want the pope's digital music player, especially one that comes in papal white! Add to that the new iBelieve accessory from, which turns the iPod Shuffle into a cross (!!), and you've got one unhip listening device.

Or, perhaps, a tool for evangelizing the next generation.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Of course, there are crazy lay people, too

Or lay men, at any rate. Case in point: Sean Forrest, "youth minister and contemporary Catholic musician," who seems to have taken a page from the fundamentalists' book and is asserting that men are the "natural heads" of the household--and women deep down want it that way.

Speaking at a Boston Catholic men's conference, Forrest said, according to the Boston Herald: "The first thing we have to do is get you off the birth control"--presumably so wives can fulfill their divinely mandated duty to serve as incubators--"[then] devise a plan to get them to stay home with the kids." A plan? What, shackles?

Don't get mad yet, Catholic women, this guy really has your interests at heart: "They want that strength and security from you,” Forrest said, drawing a standing ovation at the close of his speech. ‘‘They might resent it at first . . . (but) that is the natural position for a man: to lead your family to Christ.” That is really what you want, right, ladies--divinely mandated patriarchy? And to be beaten when you get too uppity. And, don't worry, I think Forrest knows what you really want. Heh, heh.

Actually, women, you are to blame for this mess anyway, says Forrest, who accused "feminist women in the church” of ‘‘watering down” its teachings, noting that 10 percent of women who hear him speak ‘‘get up in a huff and call me a sexist pig.” Only ten percent? What's disturbing is that not a single man got up and walked out.

‘‘I say [to the women who leave], ‘You’ll be back,’ ” he said. I don't think "pig" really covers it. How 'bout "misogynist." Oh yeah, and he suggests a book for parents on how to "prevent" homosexuality.

Of course, this kind of talk evidently has episcopal approval, since "Cardinal-designate" Sean O'Malley closed the conference by presiding at Mass. Now that's classy.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Taking stupidity to new heights

Just when you thought a bishop couldn't surprise you with his idiocy, someone goes and does one better. Today, the award for biggest episcopal boob goes to Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, who on Feb. 12 ruled that Matthew Moran, a 10-year-old autistic boy, cannot receive communion because he can't swallow the host. Matthew had been receiving by having the host placed on his tongue, but since he can't swallow foods with certain textures, his father would consume the host for him. Olmsted said this didn't qualify as "taking and eating."

Olmsted, of course, is even better in his own words, which, remember, were written to the disabled child's parents: "Just to touch [the host] to one's tongue is not to 'take and eat.' In other words, it is not the reception of Christ in the Eucharist. So while your desire is for your son to receive Holy Communion, he is, in fact, only simulating doing so." Oh ... my ... God. Imagine how many times these parents have been told that their son "can't" do something because of his disability.

Have we become such literalists, such legalists, that we cannot accomodate a child with a severe mental illness [Correction: Autism is a neurobiological disorder. Thanks to "Alexander's Dad."]? How is this any way to be a "good shepherd"? If the man had a shred of pastoral sense he would encourage Matt to continue to receive communion in the hopes that he may some day become accustomed to the texture of the host and be able to swallow it. Instead the good bishop suggested educational materials.

Such is the quality of the U.S. bishops nowadays, so concerned with rules, so obsessed with "worthiness" for receiving communion that we can now add children with developmental disabilities to the ever-growing list of those barred from the Lord's table. Welcome, Matt, to the club.

Dare I even ask what Jesus would do? I've got an idea: How 'bout a swift kick in the pants for one bad shepherd.

Here comes the Bridegroom...

"Cardinal-designate" and now head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (succeeding Joseph Ratzinger) William Levada has finally broken his silence and issued this brilliant statement at the installation of the new rector of the North American Seminary in Rome, regarding priests who publicly acknowledge being gay: "I think we must ask, 'Does such a priest recognise how this act places an obstacle to his ability to represent Christ the bridegroom to his bride, the people of God? Does he not see how his declaration places him at odds with the spousal character of love as revealed by God and imaged in humanity?' Sadly, this provides a good example of the wisdom of the new Vatican instruction [forbidding gay priests]."

Actually what this really points out is just how out of touch the higher-ups in Rome are about what the people of God want and need in their pastors. No one looks at her pastor and says, "Look, there's a representation of Christ the Bridegroom, a sign of God's spousal love for humanity." Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think most people want a priest who is prayerful, compassionate, and a person of integrity, whether gay or straight.

And who says a gay person is incapable of showing "spousal love"? This is idiotic on all kinds of levels. Not to mention that a Catholic marriage must be CONSUMATED! (Although priests have indeed been screwing the people of God for centuries. I'm speaking figuratively, of course.)

Which brings me to my real point: Conservative theology of this type, and there's lots of it out there, is shallow, ideological, clumsy, and ignorant of the wide range of ideas to be found in church tradition. In the case of ordination, defenders of the boys-only, celibate club are grasping at theological straws while a great many, perhaps more than half, of the world's Catholics go without weekly eucharist. And in the end, their arguments are just plain dumb.

Like Tom Monaghan and his "Catholic town," Levada's remarks are another embarrassment for thoughtful, faithful Catholics. "Sadly," to quote Levada, the "Cardinal-designate" and his ideological cohorts are steering the ship onto the rocks, and hurting not only gay people but all of God's people as they do it.

Friday, March 03, 2006

As if Bishop O'Malley would ever adopt a child

Well, I guess I just needed a little push, so here's one more, and this one really fries me. Catholic Charities of Boston, like many Catholic Charities agencies, places children for adoption, including, on occasion, adoptions involving same-sex couples. They do this based on the mountain of psychological evidence that indicates that same-sex couples are just as likely to provide safe, stable, and loving homes to adoptive children as opposite-sex couples.

In a triumph of ideology over good science, the bishop of Boston "Cardinal-designate" (GAG!) Sean O'Malley has asked Catholic Charities of Boston to no longer place children with same-sex couples. Catholic Charities 42-person board voted unanimously to set aside his recommendation. Seven members have now resigned in protest of the Massachusett's bishops pursuit of legislation that would exempt religious organizations from non-discrimination statutes related to social services. (Remember that Catholic Charities receives public funding.)

Glad to see that our "prolife" and "pro-family" bishops would prefer to leave children in foster care or group homes rather than place them in loving homes. Add to it the fact that a great many of these children are hard to place because they've been removed from abusive situations, have health problems, or are too old and you've got a perfect example of why so many rightly think that Catholics, or at least Catholic bishops, are hypocrites.

All the letters of the alphabet

Another reader sent a Newsweek story on the new LGBTQ minor at DePaul University, the largest Catholic U. in the U.S.

(For those who don't know the acronym, it's "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, the last kind of a catch-all for anyone who doesn't fit the standard hetero mold for ideological or other reasons. Note to readers: I'm happy to be corrected on that last bit. And for you openminded straight folk out there who know not to refer to your GLBT neighbors as "queer," it's still the safer course.)

Of course, the Cardinal Newman Society, who doesn't think any Catholic university should have a speaker not specifically sanctioned by them, is apoplectic about this, but as usual they're overreacting.

We're Catholic, folks, and that means universal, that means "here comes everybody," as writer Flannery O'Connor used to say, although it's been said a million other ways. Plus, we're incarnational, which means that God took on all of humanity in Jesus--including sexuality and gender. (Of course, he couldn't be everything--he was still a 1st-century male Palestinian Jew, and I won't make a guess about his sexual orientation, but you get my point.) Not only that, in this universal and incarnational church, God has called through baptism all five letters of that acronym. Every Sunday those of you who go to communion are communing not only with the big JC, but with Gs, Ls, Ts, Bs, and, yes, Qs, whether you know it or not--and now you do.

So good for DePaul, who gets the "real Catholic" university award from me. And a G myself, I appreciate being included in the Catholic equation, since, for me, being Catholic isn't so much about agreeing as it is about being together and sticking together.

Look at me! Look at me!

Mom called this morning, outraged after seeing the Pizza Man, Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, on the Today show interviewed by Katie Couric. Why the outrage? She's embarrassed at having to be associated with the "Catholic town" he's building near Naples, Florida, which won't allow contraceptives, pornography, or X-rated cable channels. I think I wouldn't be paraphrasing too much in quoting my mom here: "He's making us all look like a bunch of crazies!"

Not to worry, Mom, you're not the only one who's sent me this story, sensing perhaps that I needed a little noodge back to blog-world. And I've only got one real response: It's all about Tom.

That's right. Ave Maria, Florida, along with its namesake first-in-50-years Catholic university, is not about Jesus or Mary or the Catholic church, it's about the Pizza Man. Why else would he be going on every morning talk show, courting every major newspaper, to explain why he's so generously pledging $250 million to save America from itself. Monaghan is a guy with a big mouth and a bigger ego; unfortunately, he also has the pocketbook to match. Remember that line about not letting your left hand know what you're right hand is doing when you give alms--actually we just read it on Ash Wednesday! (Maybe Tom missed church that day.)

If Monaghan really wanted to do something great for anyone but himself, he might consider the L'Arche movement, a community founded by Jean Vanier in which people with mental illness and those who don't have mental illness live together and support one another. Usually, the "healthy" learn their pain runs just as deep as the "ill." Or how 'bout the Catholic Workers, who choose poverty for the sake of the poor, opening houses of hospitality catering to people who are homeless or who suffer drug addiction. Hell, why not just give the $250 million to tsunami victims?

You're right, Mom, it is embarrassing. Catholicism is not about government-mandated behavior control. And it's sure not about shameless self-promotion.

"Your regular readers are bored"

Whoever left that comment asked that it not be posted, so I decided to make it a headline.

Sorry, folks, I've let you down. Unfortunately I have a glut of writing opportunities that actually pay the bills, so they come first! But I appreciate the fact that I actually have a few regular readers, so I'll try to come up with something.

I am going on vacation though from March 16 to March 26--Puerto Rico, great scuba diving--so if it's a little light until the end of March, perhaps you'll forgive me. We liberals are full of compassion, right?